Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Bishop’

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Free Poetry Culture: Academic Edition

posted: 3.15.10 by archived

The Internet has exponentially expanded the lifetime learning opportunities for the educationally curious. Between podcasts, blogs, vlogs, online magazines and newspapers, even the most ravenous consumer of free culture would be overwhelmed.

Perhaps the most interesting development in free online culture is the advent of course materials—from lecture notes to full videos of lectures—from classes at top universities. Much of this material is collected online at the Open Courseware Consortium, where those eager for some mental exercise can check out the offerings from universities like MIT, Berkeley, Notre Dame, and Michigan.

Maybe the most interesting for readers of Teaching Poetry is Yale Open Courses which features no less than three full courses—these are real Yale courses, every lecture available for home viewing—devoted to poetry. Langdon Hammer’s course “Modern Poetry” is a nice way to get up to speed on poetry in the English world since 1900. It covers all of the greats: Frost, Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Hughes, Williams, Moore, Stevens, Auden, and Bishop.

Those interested in going in the other direction won’t be disappointed either. The English Department features an overview course on Milton taught by John Rogers. And Italian Language and Literature features “Dante in Translation” with Giuseppe Mazzotta, which covers the Divine Comedy.

In a different vein, anyone inclined to apply systematic analysis of poetry or literature of any kind, has a treat in store with Paul Fry’s course “Introduction to the Theory of Literature.” Fry’s course is a clear, comprehensive introduction to literary theory which runs the gamut of twentieth century thought from Russian formalism to neo-pragmatism. The course is mostly taught from Bedford’s own The Critical Tradition and is great for anyone interested in figuring out what academics are doing when they use incomprehensible language.

Happy learning!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poet of the Month: Robert Lowell

posted: 3.2.10 by archived

Born in Boston on March 1, 1917, Robert Lowell was the son of prominent New England parents. Lowell attended Harvard, Kenyon College, and Louisiana State University, where he studied with literary and critical giants like John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and Allen Tate. In his twenties, Lowell converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism. Though he later left the Church, his strong religious beliefs during this period deeply influenced his early work.

From 1947-1948 he served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the precursor position to the Poet Laureate). Lowell maintained a lifelong interest in history and politics—an interest that shows up in his work—and was a vigorous opponent of the Vietnam War. (During World War II, he had been jailed for conscientious objection.) His life was also dominated by emotional and marital instability—Lowell married three times—and he struggled with alcoholism. Lowell died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 60.

Lowell’s work is famously varied. His early books, Land of Unlikeness and Lord Weary’s Castle, were written under the influence of the New Critics with whom Lowell had studied. They display Lowell’s considerable skill in writing in traditional forms. He is most famous, however, for his 1959 book Life Studies, which was a departure from his earlier writing, and from the sort of writing that was most prominent in the world of poetry at the time. Lowell wrote loosely, without adherence to conventions, and incorporated autobiographical events heavily into his poetry. This volume is considered to have begun “confessional poetry” and altered the course of modern poetry.

A. O. Scott argues for Lowell’s enduring importance in his review of Lowell’s recently published Collected Poems:

Lowell’s story, of heretical, Promethean ambition dragged to earth and chastened, has struck a number of critics over the      years as overly melodramatic, and Lowell, since his death, has been somewhat overshadowed by less self-aggrandizing contemporaries like Elizabeth Bishop or Frank O’Hara, who neither made inordinate claims for the authority of poetry nor a big fuss when those claims proved to be untenable.

They left behind bodies of work, whereas Lowell, like Yeats and Milton and very few others, left behind the monumental narrative of a career, which may well, curiously enough, be remembered longer than any single poem he wrote. It is the entirety of that story—the saga of an audacious maker struggling with the raw materials of history, personality, and language—that gives so many of the poems their aura of courage and pathos.

Curious readers can find numerous online resources on Lowell’s life and poetry. The American Academy of Poets features a brief bio, along with a guide to confessional poetry, an overview of Lowell’s Life Studies, and numerous poems by Lowell, including recordings of Lowell reading “Skunk Hour” and “The Public Garden.” The Poetry Foundation features an extensive bio and bibliography, along with numerous poems by Lowell, as well as articles discussing his work. Recordings on the site include one of Helen Vendler discussing Lowell, one of Troy Jollimore talking about “Skunk Hour,” and one focused on “July in Washington” and politics. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux recently published Words in the Air, the complete letters between Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. (Readers interested in the relationship between these two major twentieth-century poets can read Helen Vendler’s incisive review of the volume in The New York Review of Books.) Lowell’s Paris Review interview, conducted by Frederick Seidel, is available online.

Happy Birthday, Robert Lowell!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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